New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Bridges of Madison County"
Schoenfeld Theater

For those of us who are suckers for bittersweet love stories, for star-crossed lovers, “The Bridges of Madison County” is bound to have appeal. And indeed the newly-opened Broadway show of that name inspires that reaction. But the show is so small, so quietly understated, that it would have fared better at an off-Broadway venue. Furthermore, the music is disappointingly repetitive, and the lyrics difficult to follow.

Yet, to its credit, “Bridges” has Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in the leads. They work together beautifully, from their first tentative encounter to the heights of their passion. Not surprising, since O’Hara and Pasquale have collaborated in several earlier shows—and particularly “Light in the Piazza” at Lincoln Center. And both sing beautifully (though one wishes the material was more challenging). Pasquale’s reedy voice is just right for the mood, and O’Hara is, as always, a musical treasure.

“Bridges” is based on the Robert James Waller’s novel of the same name (which also generated the film of the same name with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. As it happens, Pasquale is a young Clint Eastwood look-alike.)

A roving photographer named Robert Kincaid has a National Geographic assignment to cover the picturesque bridges in a certain rural area of Iowa—Madison County, in fact. He stops at a farmhouse to get directions and meets Francesca, the Naples-born wife of a farmer. (Coincidentally, in their earlier show “Light in the Piazza,” Pasquale played the Italian, O’Hara the American, but this time it is the other way around.)

Francesca is alone, her family having taken off for the Indiana State Fair, and she offers to show Kincaid the bridge. And so it goes. Ultimately, Francesca must make the choice between the roving photographer, the great love of her life—and home and family. Remember the British film “Brief Encounter”?

In every respect this musical is carefully, professionally fashioned, with unerring direction by Bartlett Sher, who treats the story with quiet understatement. From the moment of the show’s opening, with O’Hara alone on stage, this mood takes over. No big brassy production numbers here! Backing up the O’Hara/Pasquale team is a top-notch cast, Michael Yeargan’s imaginative set, and Donald Holder’s moody lighting.

The only disappointment of “Bridges” is its very core--its music and lyrics--which, in a Broadway musical, is indeed a disappointment.

- Irene Backalenick
March 18, 2014

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